“The Country” means a hundred different things to a hundred different people. To me, it has always meant freedom.
There’s something about the lack of people and the open space that gives you an opportunity to stretch out and have an adventure. As a teenager that meant the ability to get into trouble without having someone on your back. Blow something up. Build a potato gun and shoot it at cars that whizzed by on Hwy 36. Build a tree house in the woods and use it as a base of operations for pine cone battles, runs to the bootlegger, or a place to stash our Playboy or OUI Magazines (which we pronounced as “O-U-I”, having no idea that it was French).
The country meant that in the summer you said goodbye to your mom at 7am and you got home when the streetlights came on. What you did in the intervening 13 hours was between you, your little brother, and whatever gang of boys you were running with that day. You were 12-years-old. You solved your own problems. You made your own fun.
I grew up in a very small town in Northern Alabama. We had a “downtown”, some churches, a beat up shopping center and the rest was wide open Alabama farmland – patches of woods, cow pastures, creeks, ridges, and farmhouses.
When I was about 13 my pal Bucky Garner (I suppose I should change the names, but what the hell) who lived on a farm south of town invited Randy Asherbranner, Trev Wright and myself to sleep over on his land in a tent. Camping out was a pretty common activity and with enough land to set up away from his parent’s house we were in an excellent position to cause some trouble. We were also pretty much guaranteed that his mom would still make pancakes for us in the morning, AND Bucky had a hot
older sister that we could sit and talk to early in the evening.
For some reason (it’s all a little foggy), we had decided that our main activity of the evening would be TP’ing Pam Beard’s yard. This was also known as “House Wrapping” or “Yard Rolling”. Alabama is an EXCELLENT place to cover someone’s yard in toilet paper. The relative humidity and dew points are so high that whatever you lay down at 2 or 3 in the morning is a sticky wet mess by the time they discover your handy work.
So, we got settled in – four boys in a Coleman tent. We had a little whiskey, played some cards by flashlight, and waited for everyone to go to bed. We also revealed how much ammo we’d been able to smuggle out of our own bathrooms – a dozen rolls of two-ply TP.
There are two basic approaches to “rolling” someone’s yard. There’s the “We love you and we’re doing this to show how much we love you” approach. That’s all toilet paper. It gets you talked about at school on Monday and is relatively easy to clean up.
Then there’s the “We hate you, and we’re doing this to cause you as much pain as possible” approach. That is an action that takes more than toilet paper. We would buy a couple of bean bag chairs, cut the side with a razor and sling the Styrofoam “beans” all over the yard. It looks like snow, is impossible to clean up, and can kill the grass. There were some super sadists who would use bleach to write ugly comments in the grass…but I never personally went that far.
This was definitely a friendly “We love you!” kind of yard roll. Pam was a cheerleader, smart as a whip, pretty, and “one of the boys.” It was a love lick.
Around 1 am we set out. It was the country and about 2 miles to Pam’s house. We walked the roads, but in order to stay clear of the law when we saw headlights in the distance we would yell, “car!” and dive into the ditch. We finally made our way to Pam’s and the rolling began – in the trees, on the mailbox, in the bushes, whispering so as not to wake Pam’s very large, well armed father, Paul. We rolled the cars, the bikes, and the basketball goal in the backyard. We did it up proud.
Exhausted and thrilled we started the walk back. Suddenly, I heard the “car!” warning and instead of diving in the damp ditch, I decided to make a run for the pasture where I could crouch. So, I ran like a wild man through the dark and BAM – next thing I knew I was flat on my back, wind knocked out of me. I had no idea what happened. I didn’t hurt exactly, but I could barely move. It took me a couple of minutes to realize that in the dark I had run headlong into a barbed wire fence. It had hit me across the mid chest, the mid-groin and thighs.
I stood up and looked at the front of my body. My shirt was ripped to shreds and there were holes in my pants, but I appeared to be completely injury free. It was dark, of course, but I couldn’t find a single mark or spot of blood.
Trev, Randy, and Bucky came running over and I said, “Well, it seems like I’m okay. Let’s head back.” We got down the road a piece and I started to feel terrible – dizzy, weird. I reached up to scratch my face and my hand was covered in blood. I looked at my chest and my entire body was soaked in blood. It turned out that the barbed wire had made dozens of tiny puncture wounds all over my body. Because the holes were so deep it had taken 5 minutes or so for them to start to bleed, but now… I was covered and feeling faint.
“Oh, My GOD!” They tried to carry me, but in the end they walked me back to the tent. Of course, it never occurred to us to wake Bucky’s parents and seek professional care. We made our own fun. We solved our own problems! Someone decided that the best course of action was to “sterilize” the wounds by pouring whiskey all over them. So, I was laid out on my sleeping bag, my tattered clothes were removed and Bucky doused me in Jack Daniel’s Old Number 7. Randy and Trev held me down and I put a rag in my mouth so the screams wouldn’t wake the dog.
Of course, the rest of the story plays as you know it must. Got home the next day. Mom demanded an explanation. I lied. She browbeat me. I confessed. She lectured me about Lockjaw and called the doctor for an update to my Tetanus shots.
And that entire story is just to say this – when I see my nephews and short leash they have, it makes me sad that they will never experience the country life the way I did. The world has changed too much. There is so much, “Do you know where your children are?” and very little, “Be home when the streetlights come on.”
Kids don’t get to make their own fun and solve their own problems because mom and dad are 12 feet away watching every move. It all makes sense, but it’s very sad.
This post was submitted by Grant Langston.